Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli spoke with WEEI.com Wednesday night to address the current state of the team as it enters the All-Star break, which areas he might be interested in improving, and a variety of other topics regarding the Black and Gold.
The Bruins grabbed a 2-1 victory over the Panthers at TD Garden to head into their five-day break on a high note. Milan Lucic reached the 20-goal plateau for the first time in his career, while Tim Thomas won his 24th game of the season and is now on pace for 39 victories, which would fall just one shy of Pete Peeters’ single season team record set in the 1982-83 season.
The win also increased the B’s lead in the Northeast Division to four points. Chiarelli likes what he sees from the club -- especially in the month of January -- as it’s currently constituted, but is by no means satisfied and didn’t rule out further changes to the roster.
“I’d say the last 10 to 12 games, I feel that there’s been some chemistry developed,” the general manager told WEEI.com. “As a manager, I always look to improve the team. I’m not going to stop trying to look to improve the team, but we’ve added a couple of pieces and made a couple of tweaks here and there.
“[Brad] Marchand playing up with [Patrice Bergeron] has given that line some energy. Obviously, [Steven] Kampfer tweaks the D a little bit as far as puck-moving, and our goalies have been great. Tim has been outstanding. We’ve got a lot of good things, but we always try to look to improve it.”
Asked what he would add to the current roster in a perfect world, Chiarelli replied, “possibly a defenseman that could log some minutes, but that’s in a perfect world.”
As is, the Bruins have had a logjam among their blueliners since Mark Stuart returned last week from a broken hand and dislocated finger. A big part of that has been the emergence of Kampfer, who hit the ground running when he was called up following Stuart’s injury last month. The right-handed puck-moving Kampfer has eight points (4 G, 4 A) in 24 games since his call-up, and he has received serious minutes playing with Zdeno Chara. The 22-year-old has played at least 21 minutes in each of the last four games and received a career-high 22:13 of ice time on Monday. With Kampfer and Adam McQuaid both proving themselves worthy of a spot in the lineup, Stuart has been a healthy scratch for the last three games.
Kampfer, whom the team acquired last season from Anaheim in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick, saw four of his points on the season come over a stretch of four games. While many have been surprised by how easily he’s handled the jump to the NHL after just two-plus months of AHL hockey, Chiarelli, who mentioned Kampfer by name in the conference call following the Matt Hunwick trade as a guy who could potentially provide that same sort of skill set, isn’t shocked to see the Michigan product’s progress. The young blueliner’s six-game sample for the Providence Bruins following his senior season served as an indication to B's brass that they had something in Kampfer, so leave the general manager out when counting those surprised. More than anything, Chiarelli is pleased to see that his presence as both a right-handed shot and a puck-mover has given them something they haven’t had since the trade of Dennis Wideman.
“When we brought him out of college last year, he was one of the best defensemen in Providence, so it wasn’t that much of a surprise,” Chiarelli said. “… What he’s done is he’s created a balance within our defensive core. … I expected him to contribute, and he has.”
NO CALL-UP IN THE CARDS FOR NOW?
With Marc Savard’s latest concussion, many have wondered how the team might potentially go about replacing him on the roster. Daniel Paille, generally a healthy scratch, has dressed the last two games with Savard out, and when asked about calling a player up from Providence, Claude Julien said Wednesday that he didn’t think the team necessarily had to make a move for the other side of the All-Star break.
“Right now we’ve got 12 forwards, and a lot of that will depend on management and the salary cap and all that stuff and whether it makes sense or not,” Julien said. “So that’s probably going to be dealt with as we move on here but as we’re speaking right now, it’s no.”
Since Savard went down, the Bruins have used Tyler Seguin in the role of third line center, with David Krejci centering the top line with Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton. Paille has played on Gregory Campbell’s line with Shawn Thornton. Chiarelli echoed Julien’s statement, saying that while he continues to monitor the progression of certain players, he doesn’t expect to see them up with the B’s in short order.
“We look to see who’s playing well at Providence, and we look at different line combinations,” Chiarelli said. “As it stands right now, we’re not making any moves from a short-term perspective, but you look at the quality of the play of the specific players down in Providence.”
LOCKING UP BERGERON AND CHARA PRIOR TO FREE AGENCY IS LOOKING PRETTY SMART
The Bruins didn’t want Patrice Bergeron or Zdeno Chara to play a single game of a “contract year,” and they didn’t let them. Given Bergeron and Chara’s performances combined with the fact that they would have been stood out in a very weak free agent pool this summer, it’s looking like the Bruins made the right move.
The day before the season opened in Prague, the Bruins, who had both of their letter-wearing leaders set to enter the final year of their contracts, began crossing their star players off the list of free agents-to-be. First came Bergeron, who received a three-year, $15 million extension on Oct. 8. The next day, reporters awoke to learn on their way to the morning skate that the team had also locked up Chara hours before the season-opener. The captain received a seven-year, $45.5 million pact.
“Certainly, I didn’t anticipate any problems,” Chiarelli said Wednesday of the team’s intention of getting deals done before the start of the season. “We spoke at length during the summer, and really at no point did I think we weren’t going to get it done. Looking back, we’re happy we got them both done. They’re both obviously valuable pieces to our team.”
Chara’s agent, Matt Keator, told WEEI.com upon confirming the agreement back in October that it was “not an easy negotiation” and that there “lots of moving parts,” but that in the end, the two sides were able to hammer something out. From the Bruins’ end, they may have avoided having to fend off many interested suitors for both players had they been allowed to test the open market.
Consider these numbers:
- Chara is third in the NHL with an average time on ice of 26:08. He’s tied for fourth in the league with a plus-22 rating. None of the players averaging more ice time or with a better rating than him are free agents.
- Bergeron has 40 points at the All-Star break and is tied with Daniel Sedin and teammate Brad Marchand for the league lead among forwards in plus/minus with a plus-21. The only center set to hit free agency with 40 or more points this season is Brad Richards, who has 57 for Dallas. He is also five years older than Bergeron, making the 25-year-old B’s pivot perhaps the top center on the market were he to test the waters.
“Part of our job is to look ahead and plan, and we see that the free agent market is thin,” Chiarelli said. “That’s why we were proactive on [signing them before the season].”
LOOKING AT EVERYTHING AT ONCE
By the All-Star break, teams generally can get the idea of whether they are in position to add pieces to their roster to make a serious run at Cup or whether they should start thinking about the top prospects in the NHL draft.
In the case of the Bruins, they are in the rare position of having to focus on both for the second straight season. With the B’s holding a four-point lead over the Habs and currently the third seed in the Eastern Conference, they appear a good bet to be playoff-bound for the fourth straight season.
So rather than putting the all the focus on which guys the team might try to make moves for at the trade deadline, the B’s are performing the balancing act and being sure to once again do their due diligence on whomever might be the next high-profile youngster delivered to the B’s via the Maple Leafs’ first-round pick (currently projected to be the fifth overall pick).
“I try to spread out my travels,” Chiarelli said. “With scouts, we spread out their travels. It’s just about making sure your current roster is strong and remains strong, and your future roster [is strong].”
Unlike last year’s draft class, which was largely hyped at the time for its top two prospects in Tyler Seguin and Taylor Hall, followed by a perceived drop-off, the 2011 group doesn’t seem to feature that same sort of two-man race. Of course, in looking back at the 2010 draft, it was seventh overall pick Jeff Skinner who went on to have the most statistically impressive first half of the season, scoring 18 goals for the Hurricanes and being named as a replacement to this weekend’s All-Star game.
Injured Kitchener Rangers (OHL) forward Gabriel Landeskog is considered by NHL Central Scouting to be the draft’s top prospect, and while there may not be a 2011 edition of a “Taylor vs. Tyler” debate, the lack of household names right now may not be worth reading too far into when it comes to assessing the talent a team with a high pick could come away with. Chiarelli even used Skinner’s case last year as an example.
“I think there was a lot of limelight placed on those guys [in Hall and Seguin] last year, and you see a guy like Jeff Skinner, and he’s having a hell of a year,” Chiarelli said. “There’s always [top] players.”